Is Cycling Good for Knee Cartilage?

Around 25% of adults suffer from some form of knee pain. These aches and pains can range from frustrating temporary...

Around 25% of adults suffer from some form of knee pain. These aches and pains can range from frustrating temporary injuries that may be treatable to chronic conditions that can be debilitating to live with.   

Common causes of knee pain include age, injury, obesity, and repetitive stress on the joint. With the UK population growing older (and heavier), this is also reflected in the number of people requiring knee replacement surgery. According to one study, the number of surgeries in the UK for women tripled between 1991 and 2006. 

 

What is knee cartilage?   

Knee cartilage is a flexible connective tissue and according to the Cleveland ClinicIt acts as a shock absorber at the ends of our bones, reducing friction by preventing them from rubbing together when moving. 

Cartilage doesn’t have a blood supply, which means it can’t repair itself in the same way that other parts of the body can. One of the most common forms of cartilage damage is a meniscus tear, and symptoms can include pain or stiffness, difficulty bending or straightening and even a crunching sound as you move. Some tears can heal naturally, but others require surgical intervention.   

Cartilage gets its nutrients via a ‘pumping action’ and as you ‘weight bear, fluid in the cartilage is squeezed out, and as you relax, fluid with more nutrients is sucked back in.’ This is why movement is essential in maintaining healthy cartilage, providing the nutrients needed to stay thick and healthy.   

 

Is Cycling Good for Knee Cartilage

Cycling is good for knee cartilage for several reasons.   

Pedalling bends and stretches the joint to ease movement and build strength and muscle around the knee. One study found that ‘longer duration exercises’ such as cycling and running led to ‘an increase in cartilage thickness after 5 minutes from the completion of the exercise’.

Researchers in Australia concluded their study by saying that people who exercised vigorously had ‘thicker and healthier knee cartilage than their sedentary counterparts’. This tracks with what we mentioned earlier – how the pumping action of movement allows the cartilage to receive nutrients.   

This may also explain why rates of knee pain increase as people grow older because they’re moving less.  

Evidence also suggests that cycling can help manage arthritis symptoms. In several studies, cycling has been cited as helping to enhance the quality of life for sufferers of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. And for people with osteoarthritis, low-intensity exercise is just as effective in reducing pain as higher-intensity exercise. Again, we can assume that the movement is key here rather than the speed or resistance.   

But we know that some forms of exercise are more demanding on the joints than others. Running puts significant pressure on the hips and knees and wouldn’t be the best option for someone suffering from discomfort or pain. Cycling is a low-impact exercise, making it far more accessible for beginners and anyone living with a temporary or permanent injury or illness

 

Woman in gym wear trying to stand up from a chair

 

Is Cycling Bad for Knee Cartilage?   

Cycling itself might be good for cartilage, but it’s still essential that the saddle and cleats are positioned and lined up correctly. Poor posture causes many of the aches and strains beginners complain of. They can also become more persistent, especially if you’re riding regularly. It can also make the riding experience more uncomfortable than it needs to be. Cyclists should also watch their cadence and try not to train in too high a gear if they feel discomfort in their joints. Overtraining or overdoing it on the mileage can also create knee problems. While this won’t be a cartilage per se issue, it could contribute to general aches and pains that can make cycling more difficult or lead to more significant discomfort or injury further down the line.

For people with a knee injury (or those prone to it), the type of cycling a person does can also create issues. Indoor cycling classes may be too intense, especially if the instructor controls the resistance. It’s also common in classes for riders to stand upright on the pedals and simulate an uphill climb. This is a great way to increase heart rate but puts extra strain on the knees. It may be more beneficial for the rider to start independently on an upright stationary bike and control their cadence and resistance. It’s one reason why recumbent bikes are popular for rehabilitating injuries because while the action is the same, there’s less pressure on the knee joint

Cycling is suitable for knee cartilage, but it’s not the only low-impact exercise you can try. Walking and swimming are great examples of movement supporting mobility while strengthening cartilage. Cyclists should ensure that their bikes are set up correctly, ensuring that the joints are well supported.   

Whether you’re choosing to cycle for your cardiovascular and mental health, for the sheer joy of riding or to maintain healthy knees, don't miss your chance to pre-order the RE:GEN. It’s the first electricity-generating indoor smart bike for the home, allowing you to exercise for your health while generating clean electricitiy to power you electronic devices. 

 

Man in red gym shirt standing behind an electricity-generating indoor bike surrounded by green lights

 

  

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